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Among the business-related impacts of COVID-19 has been a dramatic reduction in the need for and delivery methods of industrial training. Operational cut-backs, social distancing, and the awkwardness of Zoom-type sessions have helped drive people toward online platforms to fulfill their various training needs.

While facilitating a recent in-person maintenance training session, I was asked repeatedly about the validity and quality of advice offered via online forums and so-called “free” learning sessions on numerous online video platforms. I’ve summed up my answers below.

“Free” is often a misnomer. Free smart apps are frequently offered in a restricted format that’s used to up-sell users into fully subscribed versions and/or inundate them with paid-advertising messages. Loyalty programs that provide point-based gifts are typically information-gathering vehicles used to track spending habits and then collate and sell your personal data to other retailers. Informational videos are full of interuptive advertising.

These strategies aren’t new. In 19th-century drinking establishments, patrons were offered free food with their purchase of a premium drink. The lunch table, laden with inviting salty/savory foods designed to increase one’s thirst, often resulted in multiple drink sales. This practice led to the saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

A similar disguised approach has been adopted by many maintenance-product manufactuers that offer “free” learning sessions at their facilities or online while promoting practices featuring their products. Although such offerings have some practical value and their learning content will often be sound, they’re essentially marketing tools relying on a “quid pro quo” relationship. In many cases, this type of vendor training doesn’t qualify for any national, or international accreditation program.

Then there is the “shadetree” training academy of “life-schooled” individuals who fill social-media forums and video platforms with their personal “learning” channels. While these offerings may be free to watch, the fact is more views equal advertising revenue for the content provider. This really is a “viewer beware” environment, in which the audience must navigate the difference between useful and safe tips, versus demonstrations of “what not to do” bad habits.

When we’re taught the correct way to perform a job, it can be confirming to watch and identify bad-habit moments. One of my favorite shadetree-training highlights includes a purported “mechanic” demonstrating how to pack a bearing. In the process, he removes the bearing from its factory wrapper with bare hands (sweat residue on the bearing surface can cause premature corrosion); spins the bearing by hand to ensure it “rolls” ok (a big no-no without lubrication in place); then drops the bearing into metal shavings on the floor, and cleans it “as good as new” with compressed air before greasing and installing it. That bearing was obviously destined for a short life.

Enjoy “free” forums and videos as you wish. But always make sure your maintenance training is provided by reputable, qualified maintenance experts. Remember, you almost always get what you pay for.TRR

Ken Bannister has 40+ years of experience in the RAM industry. For the past 30, he’s been a Managing Partner and Principal Asset Management Consultant with Engtech industries Inc., where he has specialized in helping clients implement best-practice asset-management programs worldwide. A founding member and past director of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada, he is the author of several books, including three on lubrication, one on predictive maintenance, and one on energy reduction strategies, and is currently writing one on planning and scheduling. Contact him directly at 519-469-9173 or

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, professional development, workforce issues, skills development